World Social Forum, Nairobi 2007 Interview with Francisco “Chico” Whitaker

World Social Forum, Nairobi 2007 Interview with Francisco “Chico” Whitaker

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By Sergio Ferrari

When in the third week of January - from 20 to 25 - the World Social Forum (WSF) opens its sixth edition in Nairobi, Kenya, it will be just completing its first six years of life. Interview with Francisco "Chico" Whitaker, a Brazilian social activist, one of the eight co-founders of the WSF and recently awarded the 2006 Alternative Nobel Prize, which he considers "as a distinction for the entire anti-globalization movement and for the WSF".

Interview with Francisco "Chico" Whitaker


"The diversity of planetary civil society cannot be reduced to a single program"

"Humanity is in a huge search for horizons"


The World Social Forum is neither a movement nor a macro-organization, but a planetary space. Exchange and learning, search for alternatives and common agendas of social movements and organizations.

From the simple to the complex, Chico Whitaker resorts to the most essential political pedagogy to remember the ABC of this "construction that has a lot of laboratory, of experience in progress", according to his own reasoning.

As a mobilizing lever, as a common denominator of that space: the fight against "neoliberalism and authoritarian capitalism that are leading the planet and the human being to ruin."

And if we talk about the internal logic of the WSF, "horizontality is what predominates. All the same, without coordinators, or representatives, or spokespersons. The space has no voice," Whitaker sentenced. Who takes a step further and underlines the importance of "change from collective construction".

"From below, people must commit to new perspectives, which will go through different and multiple actions." It is civil society as an entire political actor. Working for change, recognizing others, discovering and reinforcing convergences, he insists.

Idealism, wholesale utopias? "Above all the impulse of a new political culture under construction" which is reflected in the essential points of the WSF Charter of Principles, in force since 2001 and which has been "the fundamental key", the consensual framework, to ensure the continuity of this particular innovative dynamic.


Barely six years into existence, the WSF lives not only its own intense dynamics but also a healthy internal debate. That touches the tactics and the strategy; the need or not for a WSF program; political times and the state of world social movements.

There is no shortage of voices that assure that the WSF suffers from a loss of convening power and is the victim of a decreasing cruising speed.

This statement provokes it and Whitaker's reaction is blunt. "The WSF is a space where people, civil society from around the world can meet, can exchange, seek joint solutions. And that space is not ebbing. It would be in decline if no one wanted to continue organizing and meeting. But it is not the case and the preparations for Nairobi are proving it. The expectations for the next event in Africa are enormous. "

Whitaker takes his distance and recognizes conceptual nuances. "If some affirm that alter-globalism is in flux, they are referring to the state of the social movements that defend that vision." In this sense, Whitaker accepts, "these movements have not yet found comprehensive responses to a neoliberal model, with its military component, which is still very strong."

But he is not afraid of the enemy's strength. "Humanity is in search. It is a vast and arduous task." And in his reflection, political time plays an important role. "It is a long time. We are taking an extensive turn over a century of attempts. The problem is that many times we are afraid of dying without seeing the new. But the steps will be taken in a collective journey, without haste, in convergence. "

And from the state of the Forum to the different sensitivities regarding the need or not to endow it with a minimal political program, there is only a small distance in the conceptual debate.

"We must not impose a political program on the WSF. It is the social movements that have to have their program. But none of these movements can claim to be the only or the best. The enormous diversity that reigns in the WSF does not fit into a single project. intellectually predefined. "

New actors and protagonists appear every day. The ecological theme, for example, has been growing in recent years in an incredible way. Even the concept of social responsibility of many companies that begin to question the very concept of profit. "And that is why we cannot reduce the WSF to a complete and finished model. You cannot go back
with recipes as in the past. This does not mean that perhaps, at a certain moment, humanity can define the new society that we all want. But it will be a long and patient process ", emphasizes Chico Whitaker.


If times are long for the alternative Nobel Prize 2006, the results of this march are not always quantifiable. What specifically does the Social Forum contribute to the different social movements, unions, NGOs, etc.? , we asked.

"The opportunity that the WSF offers to each and everyone is to recognize each other in their differences. For these actors it is a plus to be in a space where there are different organizations and movements that share great common goals but do not know each other well. .

And hence the importance of social organizations being recognized and recognized in the Forum. "And around these new convergences they can organize, in turn, struggles and campaigns that until now have not even crossed their minds."

What is new, Whitaker emphasizes, "is jumping barriers, which sometimes implies overcoming preconceptions. And with all certainty, if each actor arrives with an open heart and eyes - as has happened in several previous forums - they will realize that the new alliances are essential and a new way of understanding citizen participation is emerging, of making
politics and to promote protest issues.

The final reflection does not delay: "the forum will contribute to each actor as long as they integrate and take over the forum." Recalling immediately that the WSF is a space under construction. That there are no recipes or magic solutions. And that finding an alternative to the system is everyone's responsibility.

* E-CHANGER collaboration
Swiss NGO for solidarity cooperation


The WSF has a short life of six years. It was born in January 2001 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, when planetary civil society convened itself for the first time as the "anti-Davos of the South" with the slogan "another world is possible."

From then until the present, the WSF achieved an almost explosive development. It went from 20 thousand participants in its first edition to more than 150 thousand in its fifth call in 2005. It expanded in dozens of continental conclaves, in hundreds of national, regional or thematic forums, becoming the most innovative and important alter-globalist space. After a worldwide break in 2006 - when three decentralized events were held in Caracas, Bamako and Karachi - the WSF will once again find itself, again centralized, in a single convocation. It will be between January 20 and 25, 2007, for the first time in Africa. "The WSF in Nairobi will be the bearer of several important innovations," says Chico Whitaker. At a methodological level, explains Whitaker, the first three days will be self-managed activities grouped no longer by theoretical themes but by common objectives of struggle. And the fourth day - that of January 24 - will be dedicated "to planning and making the agenda more visible to identify new convergences, propose new struggles and campaigns. This will mean a qualitative, concrete leap."

On the other hand, "African activities and initiatives will have a central place in the program. Africa, the wedge of humanity, will become Nairobi at the center of the world," he says. "And everything indicates that the Kenyan event will be transcendent. Several tens of thousands of people will participate, many of whom will come from all over the continent. The signs confirm that the WSF 2007 will be one of the best, a" true meeting of the peoples and African nations with the whole world and a reunion of the world with Africa. "

Editor's Note

The author considers the World Social Forum (WSF) to be held from January 20 to 25, 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya as the sixth (WSF) because it considers centralized editions. These were those of 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2005 in Porto Alegre, 2004 in Mumbai. And now in Africa. The one of 2006 was a decentralized WSF on three continents (Caracas, Karachi and Bamako). If centralized editions are considered, it is the Sixth. And the centralized + the decentralized are counted, it is the 7th.

Video: Acceptance speech by Chico Whitaker Ferreira - the 2006 Right Livelihood Award (May 2022).